Chopstix: Laying The Foundation For Good Music Beat By Beat

written by tiffy daniels

The super talented producer, Chopstix paid a visit to vibe.ng, gracing us in elegant native attire, clean and stretched out for the interview. The award-winning producer is one of the household names in the Nigerian music industry, producing major hits like Aboki, and collaborations with International artists have earned him a reputable name in the global industry. With a welcoming smile that said much about his warm personality, he gave background information about himself.

Why did you choose the name Chopstix?

My real name is Malcolm Olagundoye. I am from Ondo State. I wasn’t born there, I was born in Kano. I grew up in Jos, moved to the East for a bit and then to the North, and finally back to the West which is Lagos. Originally it was “Chopper”. I got the name Chopper because I used to chop off samples. Close friends used to call me Chops for short, and then back when I was still in Secondary School, some guy in my class, because I was skinny, just called me Chopsticks out of nowhere. Since that day the name stuck.

When did you start music production?

Professionally I started in 2010. Before then I was just playing music in the school and church band. I got kicked out of the church band, so I joined the school band.

Why did you get kicked out of the church band?

I was the youngest member of the band, and every Sunday we will play Highlife, and I got tired of it. After the church service, we’d have a little choir meeting where we’d discuss what to improve on. Every time in this meeting, I don’t talk because they always talk about the same thing. This time I decided to give in my own input. I suggested that why don’t we play a few other genres and the choirmaster got angry. I got kicked out as a result.

Do you have already made beats or you make beats based on a client’s request?

Both, actually. Some artists prefer being in the studio with you when you’re playing key by key, note by note. Some get inspired by that, while some artists just want to hear beats and start coming up with lyrics. It’s good to have both.

What’s your step by step production routine?

First things first, the idea has to come. It can hit you anywhere. Sometimes it could hit when I’m in a gathering, and I would just have to leave and put it down. If I don’t, the idea would leave and I will never get it back again.  Then I get to the studio as soon as I can. Obviously, I need to have munches while working because I usually forget to eat while I’m in the studio.

I start laying the melody cause that’s what hits me first. Then I lay the drums and add everything up. Some other times, you could just lay a skeleton, then you’d have someone record and you finish it up over their vocals.

People look at producers as weird because we do things people don’t understand. I could just randomly record a beatbox, just to remember a melody.

How long does it take to finish a beat?

It depends on your vibe. You can finish a beat in 30 minutes or 15 minutes. When I recorded ‘Red Rose’ with Yung L, the beat was done in less than 15 minutes. It was just the piano and he didn’t write, he just freestyled. We finished everything, including mixing and mastering in 20 minutes. That’s probably like the fastest song ever. That was also his official first single.

How long does it take to record the whole music?

It could take a day, depending on how serious the artist is. Some artist can finish in no time, others like to take their time. I don’t think there’s a standard time. That’s why studio sessions are booked in 8 hours. If you can do everything within then fine, if you can’t, you book another 8 hours.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

My inspiration is basically drawn from how it makes people feel. While making music, I think about how it’s making me feel, and how it could make people feel. I want people to listen to my music and have their mood changed positively.

What is music to you?

Music to me is probably one of the best ways of expression. It’s amazing because I’m expressing myself for someone else to come express themselves. I also do fine arts, but I feel music is a more intimate medium of expression.

Do you think music producers don’t get the recognition they deserve?

Yeah. Again, it depends on how you position and brand yourself as a producer. Because we are creative, we just mostly want to be in our creative space. As a producer, once you put out your work, you need to make sure whomever you’re putting it out with gives you the proper credit, be it artists or an organization. Most producers don’t care about that, they just want their beats to be out. Then have your tags on your songs as well.

Are you an introvert?

I wouldn’t call myself one, although I was at some point.

What’s your take on Producers being less recognized as celebrities, compared to artists?

To be honest, as long as you’re making your money, being a celebrity doesn’t matter. I understand that it’s important to be recognized for your work. When you’re mentioning celebrities and you don’t mention producers, I feel like that’s overlooking the foundation of where the music emanates from. Imagine if all the producers say, ‘we’re not doing music for one whole year’, there would be no music. I feel like music producers are not being appreciated like they ought to.

Do music producers get royalties?

Yes, they do. There is Kobalt, as well as Green Light Music Publishing which is solely for producers. Before you get royalties, there is a form you fill, with spaces where you have to fill in the artist’s name as well as that of the composer and the producer. Some artists go ahead to fill in their name and collect for both. Now it depends on your agreement with the producer. You can pay the producer off.

Let me just use this medium to say this; when an artist pays a producer for work, and there is nothing signed, you’re basically just paying for licensing. You haven’t bought the right to the beats. So if tomorrow someone else comes and says they like the beat, it can be sold to them. Another loose end producers need to tighten is publishing. We might not start making money from it now but it’s going to be very important in the future.

Nigerian producers who know about all these get royalties.

What’s the favourite part of your work?

Let’s start with the worst part; I hate recording artists. For the best part, I think it’s when the song is finally out there and I see people react to it. As well as the production process.

So why do you hate recording artists?

I know it’s my work but it can be really stressful sometimes because most times we’re recording somebody and we’ll keep going over and over. I’m a perfectionist, so if it’s not good we would have to do it again.

What is your favourite work so far?

I would say it’s the song with Sean Paul and Jhene Aiko.

What is your favourite genre?

Afro Dancehall. I have always loved dancehall since I was a kid. My sister used to play a lot of dancehall music. I grew up around friends like Yung-L and Ice Prince, who also loved dancehall music. I feel like our taste in music is what brought us together at some point. I love afrobeat as well so I just found a way to combine both of what I love. 

What else outside music production are you into?

I’m into some business. My manager and I started an NGO, called Sound Education. I used to get a lot of e-mails and text messages of students wanting to drop out of their school in other to be artists. Sound Education was established to help them stay in school and still be able to pursue their dreams. We go to schools, set up studios, and give them a total orientation of what the music industry is really about. What they see on TV is totally different from what actually goes on. So we let them know what music business and music marketing are. One of the criteria is to have good grades.

If you had someone to educate you before going into the music industry, what would you have done differently?

A lot of things. I would have secured my publishing earlier. I would have probably started up my publishing company.

Who is Chopstix in 3 words?

Chopstix is a creative, an artist, and a music producer. Although they all fall under being creative.

3 fun facts about you

I speak 3 Nigerian languages; Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. I’m trying to become a vegetarian, although not completely. I still eat fish though. It’s not for any health reasons but I just want to see what it feels like. I hardly sleep.

What are the challenges you face as a producer?

The first one would be the power supply, considering the country I’m in. I could be in the middle of recording when the power goes out, and having to switch power creates a glitch in my creative flow. The second would be trying to get the artists to understand the importance of a split sheet. It’s even more important for the artists because it would help them get their royalties. Most artists understand the importance while others who don’t feel like you’re trying to scam them into something.

What marks the biggest highlight of your journey as a producer?

That would be when we made ‘Aboki’. That wasn’t Ice Prince’s sound, to be honest. We were just experimenting. I started playing cords he liked, and he started recording. We ended up making an afro beat song. When we dropped it a lot of people went on blogs to criticize and I got a lot of backlashes. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t read social media comments on blogs and pages till date. Funnily enough, a week after the song was released, it started getting airplay. People started playing on radios, at clubs, everywhere. The same people backlashing started to praise it. The song has done a lot for both of us. He got nominated twice or thereabout for the BET awards, and won the BET awards once, because of that song.

Are there other producers you look up to?

Yes. For now, it’s just Swiss Beat.

Is there any format producers use, like artists, in other to adapt or stand the test of time?

Back end, music is just producers working in the studio, vibing, and ending up making something good that changes the sound completely. It’s usually not something planned. Once a sound pops and it starts selling, everybody else wants to go in that direction. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s a format to follow.

Do you think there is unity among producer?

I feel like music producers are more united than artists. I can call up any music producer and they would show up. I believe we have more connection between ourselves than probably anyone else in the industry

Who are the best A-list artists you’ve worked with? 

Sean Paul, Mr Eazi and Burna Boy… In no particular order.

 

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